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Master of Integrated Water Management (Partial Scholarship)
It was last Friday when I met with the many Rumonge town residents who were walking long distances to fetch drinking water from the mountains surrounding the town, following a long water shortage.
Rumonge is the capital of Rumonge Province in Burundi and on the shores of the riparian Lake Tanganyika, which is considered the longest freshwater lake in the world and a source of drinking water for millions of people. The town has faced a long crisis of clean water shortages and now the local water distribution company has stopped treating and supplying clean water.
Emmanuel Ndayishimiye, 23, a resident in the newly created district explains: “It is coming to more than five years, the water supply company does not connect anybody to its water supply system, this puts us in an uncomfortable situation”.
“We are obliged to walk long hours up to the hills to fetch drinking water. We do not have time for our income generating activities, we are losing money and poverty is hitting,” he added.
The alternative to walking long distances outside the city to fetch clean water is to buy it from people in the town. People pay between 300 and 500 Burundi francs per jerrican of 20 liters of water.
“Not everybody can afford to pay that money every day,” said Mireille Niyuhire, 17, who was queuing for water. “Some people want to cheat on the water queue, pretending that they are in a hurry. We end up quarrelling and even fighting until they accept to wait like others.”
Some are trying to turn the water shortage into a lucrative small business. Those who ride on bikes or motorcycle can get water quicker and bring more jerricans into the community. But sales are limited – the community does not have the capacity to keep buying water. They are no generating income and many have no money.
Nestor Bikorimana is engaged in the business of selling water. “We buy this water in the hills surrounding the town and we bring the jerricans to sell inside the town. It is good business, but many cannot afford to buy clean water every day”.
Many of the families in Rumonge cannot buy clean water on a daily basis, and instead use and drink untreated water from Lake Tanganyika.
“Many who do not buy from us just drink water from Lake Tanganyika,” said Nestor Bikorimana.
But drinking water from the lake comes with risks. The lake is heavily polluted by the traditional palm oil industry, which dump their untreated wastes in the lake. Untreated waste water from households in the town and other solid wastes are also dumped into the lake.
Mwajuma, 62, is from one of Rumonge’s poorer families.
“I have no money to buy water from the tab. I always fetch in Lake Tanganyika when I need water”.
When I asked if she boil the water before use, she said that it is too demanding to boil the water.
“I just drink or cook with the water, no time to boil it”.
Rumonge town became a district ten years ago and in that time the population has doubled, but the infrastructure has failed to keep up. Rumonge simply has no means to provide water to the increasing number of residents.
Charles Kabisa, a spokesperson for the local water distribution company acknowledge that the company is no longer able to satisfy the water supply needs due to technical problems. He said he doesn’t see any solution in the near future, but advised the residents to boil the water before drinking it.
“We are aware of the problem, but it is not easy to take action since the cooperation [previously from a German government agency] stopped to help us in the water sector. The company itself does not have enough technical capacity to tackle the issue. There is no alternative to using Lake Tanganyika water, but it should be boiled before use,” he said.
But there is help on the horizon. Recently a major project was announced to better manage the waters of Lake Tanganyika. The project is under the presence of the Lake Tanganyika Authority (ATL) and funded by the European Union and Belgium Development Agency (Enabel).
I hope it is not too little, too late.
About the author: Jean Pierre Nkunzimana is Burundi-based environmental journalist, who graduated from Makerere University in Uganda. He is a lecturer in environmental communication at Ntare Rugamba University in Bujumbura, Burundi. Contact Jean Pierre on Twitter at: @piernkunzimana1
Disclaimer: Community stories are written by members of the broader International WaterCentre community. The purpose of community stories is to provide a platform for the International WaterCentre community to share and discuss their personal water challenges. The stories represent the views of the individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the International WaterCentre.